On April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot force a DUI suspect to submit to a forced blood draw without a search warrant in a routine DUI investigation. The opinion will mandate changes in dozens of states where law enforcement routinely force suspected drunk drivers to submit to a forced blood draw. In Missouri v. McNeely, the complex opinion delivered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled that, when the Missouri state police required a forced blood draw from Tyler McNeely, a suspected drunken driver, the police violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Forced Blood Draws: Supreme Court Says “No Go”
The Supreme Court failed to make any bright line rules as to when and under what circumstances police could initiate a forced blood draw without a warrant. Instead, it seemed that it would be a case-by-case basis. That is, different facts may require different outcomes. The opinion of the Court made one clear delineation: the mere dissipation of blood over time was insufficient grounds to excuse police from obtaining a search warrant. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled, more exigent circumstances are required. In the earlier case of Schmerber, the Supreme Court found a forced blood draw was found constitutionally valid because the suspect had been injured in a collision and had to be taken to a hospital. That would be a prime example of an exigent circumstance in which the police could do a forced blood draw over a suspect’s objection.
McNeely’s Forced Blood Draw Deemed Unconstitutional
The facts in the McNeely case were considered routine in drunk driving cases. McNeely’s vehicle was seen weaving and speeding by police. Police then initiated a traffic stop. McNeely, driving the vehicle, displayed the tell-tale objective signs of alcohol intoxication: slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and the odor of alcohol on his breath. McNeely admitted to having a couple of beers. McNeely then was requested to perform a battery of field sobriety tests, which he performed poorly. He was arrested for driving under the influence. During transport, McNeely indicated he would not perform a breath test and the officer took him to a nearby hospital. At the hospital, the officer asked McNeely if he would consent to a blood test. McNeely was then informed of implied consent. McNeely refused the blood test. The officer then informed the medical staff to obtain a forced blood draw. At no time did the officer attempt to get a warrant. The Supreme Court found these actions to be unconstitutional.